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Monday, June 22, 2009

Stuttering Serena passes first test

Photo Titled Serena strikes hard
Two-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams connects firmly with a forehand shot
Photo Titled Neuza Silva
Neuza Silva of Portugal in action during her straight sets first round defeat to Serena Williams.

Second seed Serena Williams is safely through to the second round of the 2009 Championships, but she was given a more demanding test than many had expected before overcoming qualifier Neuza Silva 6-1, 7-5 in one hour 14 minutes on Centre Court.

It was a potentially nerve-shredding occasion for Silva, a 26-year-old from Portugal who was appearing in her first Grand Slam match, but she responded bravely and positively. Aided by a string of errors from Williams, she made a real fight of the second set after losing the first in 27 minutes and is entitled to feel proud of doing so well as the first Portuguese, man or woman, to appear on Centre Court.

Silva has known the dark side of tennis, having been sidelined for three years with a wrist injury that almost caused her to give up the sport after her ranking dipped into the 600s. Now ranked 154, this match provided a brighter side for her career and she responded vigorously.

Williams, with both ankles and her right wrist heavily taped, needed six minutes to break serve in the opening game, but made rapid enough progress afterwards. She was 4-0 ahead inside 20 minutes, though there was a warm Centre Court response when Silva managed to hold serve at the third attempt.

Even though heavily outgunned in that opening set, Silva came back full of fight and, aided by some outrageous Williams errors, made a fine match of it in the second set.

After holding serve to 2-2, Silva responded with a fist-pumping celebration of which any of her footballing compatriots would have been proud.

But Serena, twice the Wimbledon champion, has never lost in the first round of any Grand Slam and she remembered her pedigree when it mattered.

Despite failing to convert a match point at 5-4, the American closed out the last two games confidently. The match practice on grass had been needed, and at times it looked that way.

After the match, Serena said she was she had let her concentration slip after dominating the first set. "I definitely think she increased her game, but also I think my concentration wasn't what I wanted it to be, on some key points, it wasn't where it should have been. And, you know, it's just a point here or there that can make or break a match," she said.

"I thought I served well. I thought, you know, in practice I've been doing a little bit better. I thought I could have played a ton better, especially on key points. I feel like hopefully as the tournament goes on and progresses, I'll get there."

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